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Hamilton must change as shoppers go online, say planners

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Up to 15 per cent of retail spaces in Hamilton have been vacant in the last year, according to planners. They envision more flexible uses of ground floor spaces to bring people back into the city. (Photograph by David Fox)

A new plan for Hamilton envisions more varied uses of ground-floor spaces and the waterfront, more activity spaces designed to bring people into the city, and more environmentally friendly buildings. Owain Johnston Barnes reports

The City of Hamilton needs to be more welcoming if it is to succeed, according to a draft plan released last week.

The consultative draft of the City of Hamilton Plan 2023, noted that the city had a ground-floor vacancy rate of 15 per cent and that figure was likely to rise as shopping habits changed with the rise of online purchasing.

The plan said: “We predict that this figure is likely to increase as the full and long-term impacts of the pandemic are felt. It is also abundantly clear that town centre retailing, in general, has experienced considerable decline over the last 20 years around the world.

“These trends mean that to retain and improve the resilience, vitality and viability of the city, there must be scope for a diverse range of uses, which increase footfall and expand upon the types of services and facilities offered.

“We want to make the plan supportive of creative uses within the city, which could make efficient use of vacant space.”

Empty spaces: A scene in Washington Mall in December 2021. Vacant retail spaces have become more common throughout Hamilton (Photograph by David Fox)

The plan said that the city must become “a destination“ to have continued success and efforts must be made to create a “safe, pleasant and welcoming environment”.

“If you create places where people want to spend time and interact, they will also increase expenditure within the area and, in turn, make that area a more appealing prospect for future businesses,” the plan said.

“Effective delivery of this cyclical process will be to the long-term benefit of all stakeholders.”

Uses which could be encouraged within the city included artistic and cultural uses, leisure and restaurants, “flexispaces” that provide meeting and office space for short-term periods, healthcare uses, al-fresco dining and even non-conventional farming in vacant buildings.

The plan added that while the Corporation of Hamilton would continue to work to improve the environment of the city, developers should also play a role in making it a more liveable city.

“Developers will be able to yield higher returns for projects within the city if the city has an attractive and appealing public realm, which makes people want to reside in or visit the area,” the plan said.

“It is therefore in the interests of all stakeholders to invest in the city. Consequently, the board will require community benefits to be provided as part of some development proposals.

“This can be in the form of a monetary contribution or the implementation of a public realm improvement project, which will require collaboration with the corporation and/or any other affected landowner.”

Place makers: The team behind the new city plan. Planner Tamsyn Doran, Director of Planning Victoria Cordeiro, Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, Senator Lindsay Simmons, the junior home affairs minister, and planner Kenny Campbell at Fort Hamilton. (Photograph by Jayde Gibbons)

The plan would also introduce energy statements, which would require developers to consider the energy usage of their properties.

“Energy statements will be required to demonstrate that a three-stage process has been followed to minimise the energy requirements of the development and ensure that energy is supplied efficiently and from renewable sources,” the draft plan said.

“This is a new concept in Bermuda and something which will require further consideration in terms of its roll-out. It is also highly likely that this is something which will evolve in accordance with best and workable practices.

“In time, it is anticipated that specific metrics can be applied as definitive requirements, over and above building code requirements.

“The purpose of introducing the concept at this time is to make stakeholders aware that the Department will be intensifying its sustainability efforts and to encourage those operating within the relevant sectors to identify ways in which we can reduce our energy needs.”

City of Hamilton Waterfront (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Strategic Development Sites

The plan highlights four strategic development sites which, if appropriately developed could “assist in revitalising key areas of the city”.

The plan adds: “Most of the sites identified in this section have long been recognised for their redevelopment potential and it is considered prudent to continue to highlight the existence of these sites within the plan.

“The redevelopment of these locations will require careful thought and input from a number of stakeholders to ensure their success.”

The largest of the four strategic development sites is the waterfront, which the plan said had “immeasurable potential”.

“The waterfront has the potential to be Bermuda’s premier destination for social activity, which would have direct knock-on benefits for existing businesses in the city and encourage new businesses to view the city as a viable location,” the plan said.

“This area presents an opportunity to accommodate a range of recreational and leisure activities set within a high-quality, pedestrian-oriented public realm.”

Because of the significance of the area, the department recommended that any proposals for the redevelopment be the subject of a public consultation exercise, incorporating workshops to give the public opportunities to influence the final proposals.

A second strategic site is the Par-la-Ville Car Park, which the plan said had the potential to become the “main parking facility” for commercial operations in the city.

“Previous development proposals for this site have shown that the area has considerable excavation potential and therefore, there is scope to accommodate parking above and below the existing grade,” the plan said.

“The consolidation of car and bike parking at this location would enable the reduction or removal of car and bike parking spaces from other key locations across the city in an effort to make the city a more pedestrian-friendly environment and reduce the visual clutter which is created by the plethora of car and bike parking spaces throughout the city.”

Meanwhile, the plan suggests the nearby City Hall Car Park could find another use.

“This is a highly visible site within the city and it is unfortunate to see it utilised for parking, which also detracts from the setting of City Hall, one of Bermuda’s most iconic buildings,” the plan said.

“It is considered that the site could be used more productively as a civic square, hosting outdoor cultural events, complementing the cultural activities which take place within City Hall.

“The site could also be used as an outdoor market and could assist in establishing better connections with the northern part of the city.”

The final highlighted strategic site is the location of the former Canadian Hotel, now an empty lot, which it said could help to revitalise the eastern side of Reid Street.

“This area bears little resemblance to the western end of the Reid Street and currently has an alarming ground floor vacancy rate of 28.5 per cent, compared with a city-wide vacancy rate of 15 per cent,” the plan said.

“This is a clear indication that the area is not an appealing prospect for businesses.

“There must be a mixture of uses within the city and not everywhere can be used for retailing. However, we believe that it is important to try and increase footfall across the city as this benefits businesses and creates the overall feeling of a vibrant, safe and thriving urban centre.”

The plan called for action to consolidate parking in the city, noting that more than 12.5 per cent of the city is dedicated to parking.

“This not only facilitates high volumes of traffic entering the city but it also discourages development of lots being used for parking and detracts from the aesthetic appearance of the city as parking facilities are generally unattractive and can be large, dead spaces at certain times of the day,” the plan said.

“Furthermore, there is a significant volume of parking at the waterfront, which is not only visually intrusive in a highly visible part of the city, but also a missed opportunity to capitalise upon one of the city’s best assets.

“Accordingly, this plan favours the consolidation of public parking facilities across the city to release land in key, strategic locations for alternative uses which would increase the vibrancy of the city.”

Those who wish to provide feedback on the plan can do so through the Department of Planning website until March 24.

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published January 23, 2023 at 11:15 am (Updated January 23, 2023 at 11:15 am)

Hamilton must change as shoppers go online, say planners

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